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Thursday, 10 May 1973
Page: 1972

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) - The question of abortion is one of the most sensitive and fundamental issues to come before this national Parliament. At the outset I make my position clear. As a matter of deep personal conviction J am opposed to the Bill and to the other amendments which have been foreshadowed. This Bill purports to clarify and remove doubts concerning the position of doctors with regard to abortion. It attempts to deal with a question of major social importance - a matter with a wide range of associated questions of medicine, social welfare, the physical and mental health of mothers, basic human rights, and the rights and freedoms of doctors, nurses and hospital staffs. It is therefore an attempt at major social legislation.

But I believe it to be entirely misleading to entitle this Bill a 'clarification' measure. As the Medical Association of the Australian Capital Territory has pointed out:

Medical practitioners see no need for clarification of their position. To that extent the title of the Bill is misleading. In fact, the Bill creates confusion.

The public, I believe, should not be led to think that this legislation is simply a clarification of the existing law and practice when, in fact, it goes so much further and seeks to implement what I regard as abortion on demand. It is significant that this Bill to make abortion easily available on demand is offered to this national Parliament and the Australian people when other countries, with long experience of legal abortion and its harmful consequences for the individual and society, have either restricted their earlier laws or are moving to restrict. Romania has already done so; Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Japan are moving towards this. Britain's Abortion Act is under serious review, because of the abuses that have followed legislation. Sweden is severely restricting the application of its abmtion law

It is significant that the content; of this Bill ignore the medical evidence of the harmful physical effects of abortion evidence now coming from so many countries. The New York State Medical Association, in common with the observations of other medical bodies, warned doctors in 1970 that abortions after the 12th week 'are fraught with tremendous danger'. Yet this Bill provides for abortion well beyond this time and on the same grounds, which, under the United Kingdom Abortion Act, have been used for abortion on demand.

This Bill has been brought before the Parliament before the Lane Committee of Enquiry into the working of the United King dom Abortion Act reports to the British Parliament. The evidence, medical and other, submitted to that Committee, is an indictment of abortion on the basis proposed by the mover and seconder of this Bill as a means of solving pregnancy problems. Medical associations have not been consulted on the Bill, especially the obstetricians and gynaecologists who will have to perform abortions if this Bill were to become law. I believe there can be no valid reason for failing to consult medical opinion in the Australian Capital Territory. Those responsible for the Bill may have been constrained from the necessary consultative processes in view of the fact that 92 per cent of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Britain, with experience of legal abortion, reject abortion- on demand.

The Bill's provisions appear to take little account of the evidence of the coercive effect of abortion laws on doctors. The Royal College of Obstetricians, in paragraph 20 of its evidence to the Lane Committee, notes proven cases of duress on doctors, nurses and theatre staff - and Britain's law is more restricted than that which is proposed here in respect of doctor's rights. The official South Australian Statutory Committee examining the operation of that State's Abortion Act note that the law did not provide adequate protection for doctors' rights and convictions but that it was, in practice, coercive of doctors. I say without in an? sense seeking to impugn the motivations of those who brought forward this measure that the inept drafting o the legislation repeats the confusion of the United Kingdom and South Australian abortion laws, and adds to that confusion additional uncertainties. It is an attempt to use the medical profession and the subterfuge of legal clarification to introduce a major change in social legislation, which would have far-reaching effects on the future status and health of women, and on the basic civil liberties of all citizens. It is a Bill that has grown large on the massive ignorance of its assumptions. It should be clear that a private member's Bill is a totally inadequate legislative approach to the major social issues involved in the question of abortion.

Let me turn briefly to the appeals for a royal commission to inquire into this whole question. I am aware that an attempt has been made to associate my name with calls for such an inquiry, when in fact I spoke some week or so ago about a study of expectant mothers' economic and social welfare needs. I have not suggested a royal commission into the question of abortion. I believe such a commission is unnecessary and its adoption will simply defer the rejection of the Bill before the House. lt should be stressed that a royal commission into abortion - this is my opinion; of course, every member will take his own view in relation to this question - is not justified when there is ample international evidence to reveal the full extent of its harmful effects - of the toll on the woman's health, especially on the health of young women, as the College of Obstetricians' report evidenced in detail to the Lane Committee; of the psychological damage done to abortees; of the disruption to hospital facilities and services; and most importantly of the steady erosion of civil liberties involved in destroying the life of the unborn. I reject the concept of a commission, while respecting the views of those who seek to support that concept, because of the ample evidence which is available not only in Australia but also in so many other countries. I also reject the idea of a commission because very many people in this Parliament have such deep personal and moral conviction that their views will not be changed by further inquiries, having regard to the evidence which already exists. Nor do I believe that a referendum is desirable. It is, after all, the duty of this national Parliament and its members to determine an issue in which civil rights and the welfare of the mother are involved.

It is important to examine some of what I believe to be the myths that have been widely represented as fact in seeking legislation to provide for abortion on demand. This Bill, like its predecessors in Great Britain and elsewhere, has sought the respectability of fact while being based on myths. One continually repeated myth restated in this House today is that legal abortion will remove the incidence of illegal criminal abortions. However, in the United Kingdom, the evidence of the Royal College of Obstetricians to the Lane Committee, the study by John and Hackman and the Wynn report all show that there is no noticeable drop in the incidence of illegal abortions. Frederickson and Brackett studied countries with all types of legal abortion laws. They concluded that not only is there no evidence of a reduction in illegal abortions, but in East Germany the wide abortion laws were accompanied by an increase in criminal abortions. The studies by Dr Christopher Tietze and a 25-year survey by Dr Sundberg both found the same result for Scandinavia. Dr Muller and Dr Mall-Haefele having surveyed 12 countries with legal abortion, concluded in a report to the 5th World Congress of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1967:

.   . those who believed that the legislation of therapeutic abortion would reduce the incidence of illegal abortions have not had their hopes fulfilled.

There is also the myth, restated here, that legal abortion will dispose of the unwanted and illegitimate child problem. But the College of Obstetricians, the John and Hackman report and the Wynn report all demonstrate the converse to be the case.

There is the myth that abortion is not the killing of human life, that the foetus is just an appendage of the mother. This is asserted - I put the theological viewpoint to one side - without regard for scientific evidence of the development of the foetus. It ignores the statement of the world leader in foetal medicine, the man who first completely transfused a foetus within its mother. Dr. A. W. Lilley, who said:

Biologically, genetically and physiologically, mother and foetus are two separate individuals.

The journal 'California Medicine' commented in September 1970 that there has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception. This is the point that I take in this context not on a theological basis, which I also accept, but on the scientific evidence available in so many countries. The same journal derided what it called 'the very considerable semantic gymnastics required to rationalise abortion as anything but taking a human life' and called this 'a schizophrenic subterfuge'. It explains why the professor of gynaecology at Leeds University remarked in the United Kingdom publication 'Social Science and Medicine':

The most important fact that gynaecologists know, and the most understandably suppressed, is that performing an abortion . . . involves the destruction of a clearly recognisable human being.

There is the myth that it is a woman's right to have an abortion in order to control her fertility. It can be no one's right to take the life of another human being. The basis of law in a democratic society is that its provisions must apply equally to all members of that society. It is a woman's right to control her fertility, but once she becomes pregnant it is my personal view there is a new human being with an equal legal right to life. The notion that a woman has a private, right to abortion, asserted here today, cannot be legitimately advanced. Even when she does have an abortion, she automatically involves the rights and consciences of a large number of other people - her doctor, the gynaecologist, the nursing staff, the theatre staff, the anaesthetist, and many others. These are people who are personally involved and whose rights must also be recognised and protected.

There is one myth which has had serious consequences for the woman who is aborted and suffers harmful complications. The British 'Medical Journal' remarked in an editorial on 20th January this year that many women have been misled toy pro-abortion propaganda to believe that an abortion is as simple and as safe as having a tooth out. That journal, which is a distinguished journal in its field in Britain, condemned this frivolous approach, and added that doctors are becoming increasingly aware of the hazards of legal abortion, especially for girls pregnant for the first time. There is good reason for this warning. The Royal College of Obstetricians, not a body to be lightly set aside in this debate, reported to the Lane Committee that the mortality rate from legal abortion over the past 3 years is almost certainly greater than the total maternal mortality rate. The same report lists the growing evidence of physical complications in abortions, even those done by specialist obstetricians. Many of these are permanent disabilities that lead to chronic illness and lasting psychological disturbance. The Stallworth study in Britain mentioned the disquieting incidence' of complications. Another study cited by the Royal College of Obstetricians showed a 20 per cent complication rate as a result of abortions. The official New York study of 43,000 abortions revealed a complication rate of 12.6 per cent. South Australian medical studies show complication rates of 18.5 per cent. For instance, a study by Dr Miller in 1973 remarked:

The individual patients exhibiting significant complications totalled 170 out of 348 or 49 per cent. Ninety-three out of 170 operations were performed by specialists.

Dr Millerconcluded that:

.   . the complications inherent in abortion have been largely ignored by the medical profession and public alike.

Dr Pickerand Dr Pfanner reported on their experience with the vacuum aspiration method of abortion - the latest method of abortion - at a Sydney hospital, and found an 11.2 per cent complication rate. They gave this warning:

Recently in the thinking of the general public there have been moves to suggest that abortion should be freely available on demand and that this procedure is without significant risk. However, recent papers . . have emphasised that therapeutic abortion is not without significant risks. Our series confirms these views.

The Czechoslovakian official study of the use of vacuum aspiration with 100,000 legal abortions found permanent complications in between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of all women aborted, with the rate higher in women pregnant for the first time. When evaluated with the risk of subsequent pregnancies, and with the incidence of incapacity for a woman to have a child or retain a pregnancy, the complication rate rose to between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

This report concluded with the statement:

We realise we have to alter our existing law . . . to restrict legal abortion.

These facts are put down in simple and brief terms because one cannot, during the course of this very restricted debate, deal really fundamentally with the issues involved. This is only scratching the surface of the information which is readily available, but it further supports the point that I make concerning the question of a royal commission. In the name of liberation it imposes new burdens on women, and for the unsuspecting single girl who is aborted those burdens in ill-health can be life-lasting. The people of this country have the right to know these facts.

Abortion is a totally inadequate solution to a pregnant woman's economic and social needs. It is a short term view of the surface symptoms of a woman's problems. It leaves the aborted woman to pay the price, sometimes with physical and psychological illhealth and, at the same time, fails to resolve her basic problems.

It is a solution which is promoted by some under the guise of a new liberation for women. In fact, in my view it treats women as second class citizens, not worth the proper care of society and the Government.

What we are being asked to agree to is the legalised destruction of human life. A substantial number of side issues are raised, a series of attempts are made to divert the debate about abortion from the central issue: Legal abortion gives formal approval to the destruction of life for the social, economic and often trivial convenience of our society. It is a matter of concern in an age of advanced technology and achievement where modern medicine has accomplished such wonders in curative and preventative control of disease and illness, that the best we can do as a society for the expectant mother and her child is to bring the force of that technology and medical achievement to destroy human life in the womb. If that is the best we can offer, I say that we are bankrupt of true humanitarian values that should characterise any modern democratic society.

What is at stake in this issue is also the rights and civil liberties of everyone in this nation. If we agree to invoke the legal approval for the breakdown of the unborn child's right to life, then we are beginning to break down that basic right to life which we all possess. And because it is the basic right in a democratic society, all other rights and the exercise of our civil liberties rest on that fundamental proposition. What use are our other rights and civil liberties if we cannot be assured of the basic right on which they all rest? Yet that, I believe, is what we are being asked to do, to shake the whole structure of rights and civil liberties by agreeing to the erosion of that basic right. No society can do that and avoid further breakdowns of the democratic structure that recognises the equality of all its citizens.

This Bill which seeks to provide abortion on demand meets none of the requirements of enlightened and progressive legislation. It is contrary to the human rights and humane values which must be the fundamental concerns of a democratic society. Under the pretence of liberating mothers, it discriminates against them, offering them, I believe, a spurious benefit at a price they themselves may well pay for the rest of their lives. Under the pretence of clarifying the position of doctors with existing law, it makes new inroads on their rightful professional and conscientious judgment. Under the pretence of being a humane solution to genuine human problems it seeks the law's seal on the systematic discrimination against one group of the human family, the innocent and defenceless. Under the pretence of appealing to indi vidual rights it attacks the whole structure of rights and civil liberties.

I believe that this Parliament has a clear obligation to reject the terms of this Bill and the amendments which have been foreshadowed.

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